by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam
The third annual Big Strick Classic was once again a highly competitive and enjoyable event, showcasing some of the best high school talent in the country along with New York’s trademark passion for basketball.
Led by guards Isaiah Whitehead (16 points) and Isaiah Briscoe (11 points, to go with an awe-inspiring ball handling exhibition), along with forwards Cheick Diallo (23 points & 12 rebounds), Thomas Bryant (15 & 6) and Chris McCullough (17 & 9), Team NYC took control in the second half and emerged with a 126-110 victory over Team USA. The local kids avenged last year’s 87-86 heartbreaking defeat, but more importantly, now lead the all-time series, 2-to-1.
With the AAU circuit and skills camps in the rearview, the Big Strick Classic concludes a hectic summer of basketball (save for those competing in the UA Elite 24). Picking up on last year, an at-capacity Gauchos Gym played host to a highly intense, go hard or get exposed 48-minute contest. Based off the talent pool, raucous fanfare and increasing media presence, Big Strick is seemingly on the cusp of becoming a nationally-known event. Every year, ignited by the NYC team’s prideful defense of the Tri-state area and the USA team’s desire to make their own statement in the Mecca of hoops, the players elevate their games and show out in a hostile, unforgiving environment, which always makes for great basketball.
The event’s growing alumni list includes Archie Goodwin (Kentucky/Phoenix Suns), Kyle Anderson (UCLA), Andrew and Aaron Harrison (Kentucky), Troy Williams (Indiana), Chris Walker (Florida), Omar Calhoun (UConn), Jermaine Lawrence (Cincinnati), Robert Hubbs (Tennessee), Kuran Iverson (Memphis), and many others.
This year was no different, with a handful of the best high school talent on display. Organized by Left Hand Right Hand, LLC, the game was dedicated in memory of its namesake, the late John “Franchise” Strickland. A streetball legend in New York City, Strickland died in his sleep at the too-young age of 38 in October of 2010.
Strickland played college ball at Pacific University, and spent six seasons in the USBL, but his legacy was made on city asphalt. Strick coined the phrase “finish your breakfast,” reminding us that no move—no matter how eye-pleasing—is complete until the ball goes in the hoop. A childhood friend of Jay Z, HOV gives a nod to Strickland in the song Public Service Announcement, saying “My homie Strick told me ‘Dude finish your breakfast,’ So that’s what I’ma do…”
The players first gathered last Friday afternoon at Gauchos Gym in the Bronx. Led by Coach Sam Clark of UnderDogs Training and Coach Christian “Pop” Popoola of PremierBall.com, the players worked through a series of drills, including finishing through contact using Pop’s E.A.T. Battle Pads. Through constructively critical instruction, the kids were introduced to pro-style workouts, and were reminded that even though they’re elite at this level, they still have a long ways to go to reach their ultimate goal.
After a few hours of workouts, the teams had their first lick at each other in two 40-minute scrimmages. It started off a little sluggish, but as sweat started to accumulate, the atmosphere shifted towards a competitive seriousness that carried into gameday.
On Saturday, players competed in a 3-point and jaw-dropping dunk contest (tape of both is above). Brooklyn’s own son, Whitehead, took home the 3-point crown, and high-flyer Ladarrius Chester emerged as the dunk contest winner. Overall, the dunk contest was really special—it was the greatest performance of dunks I’ve ever seen in my life, and that’s not an exaggeration. Every throwdown was NBA-caliber.
After the pregame festivities, the game commenced. Team USA led at halftime, but in the second half, NYC picked up its transition game, and behind Briscoe, McCullough and Whitehead, increased its lead and never looked back.
Let’s break down some of the top players at the event. Be sure to check out the countless videos above, and also some great snapshots from the event in our photo gallery.
Scouting Report: Notable Players
Kelly Oubre Jr. (Findlay Prep)
2014, SF, 6-7, 190 — Overall MVP of event
Offers from Kansas, UConn, Louisville, Kentucky and others
On Friday, Oubre was the star of the scrimmage, scoring 36 points, including five 3-pointers. And on Saturday, he followed up with a 25-point, 9-rebound outing, taking home game MVP honors.
In my estimation, Kelly Oubre is one of the five best players in the country, and projects to be a 2015 first-round pick. He has smooth range on his lefty jumpshot, is versatile to defend three backcourt positions, has supreme bounce and length, and can finish with his right hand.
Oubre is a great athlete who feeds off his defense to create transition opportunities. He can make plays off the dribble and finishes with thunderous authority. The kid is a moving pogo stick with unreal bounce and a mean streak; there is no doubt Kelly Oubre is a future NBA player.
Stephen Zimmerman (Bishop Gorman)
2015, C, 6-11, 215 — Team USA Co-MVP
Offers from Arizona, UConn, Kansas, Memphis, Indiana and others
With great size and length, Zimmerman is skilled beyond his years and has a uniquely-high basketball IQ for his age. At the Big Strick, he showcased an arsenal of advanced moves against more athletic defenders like Cheick Diallo and Chris McCullough, including exceptional timing on up-and-under moves, deft footwork, dunking ability with both hands and an overall presence when he was in the paint.
The hype surrounding Zimmerman is real, and it’s viable for him to be a lottery pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
He has excellent passing ability out of the high post, and can both face up and back his man down. In short, he has elite tools across the board and has the talent to dominate. He is a top-5 player in his class for sure, and maybe a top-3 big man in the country right now.
Ahmed Hill (Aquinas High School)
2014, G, 6-5, 190 — Team USA Co-MVP
Offers from Florida, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kansas and others
Ahmed Hill is special.
The kid has everything you want in a basketball player: immense talent, great size for his position, an extremely high basketball IQ, the ability lead, and the ability to get everyone else better.
He can play both guard positions, but if I were a coach, I’d give Hill the keys to the offense and let him operate. He sees the floor extremely well, can get into the paint and finish at the rim, and he competes hard on every possession. Hill rarely commits turnovers, can handle the ball against pressure and is a dynamic playmaker. I’ve seen all the top point guards in the class of 2014, and in my opinion, there’s not a point guard in 2014 who Ahmed Hill can’t compete with. I’m a huge fan.
JaQuan Lyle (Bosse HS)
2014, SG, 6-4, 185
Committed to Louisville
Lyle is a combo guard with a wide frame and terrific shooting ability. He can shoot coming off screens, in a catch-and-shoot stance, or off the dribble. He has solid footwork as well, allowing him to create space and get his shot off with ease.
Lyle is also a solid passer, as he showcased full-court vision and passing ability. He can create for teammates and make plays, but his go-to is off the dribble shooting ability. He pours it in.
Derrick Jones (Philadelphia, PA/Archbishop Carroll HS)
2015, SF, 6-6, 185
Offers from Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland and others
Jones is an under-the-radar stud. He is a lanky, skinny kid with arguably the most bounce in the country. He effortlessly gets eye-level with the rim, and has improved his finishing ability.
Jones needs to fill out his frame and shore up his jumpshot, but he has the athletic tools to be a force on the court. He has excellent finishing ability, and is a versatile defender. If his skills catch up to his body, he has a chance to be special.
Jalen Lindsey (Huntington Prep)
2014, SF/PF, 6-7, 185
Committed to Providence
Lindsey is a cerebral player with freakish athleticism. He operates smoothly on the wing, is an effective slasher and explodes to the rim with even the slightest inch of separation.
He plays with an infectious energy and can shoot out to 20 feet. What’s fascinating about Lindsey is that although he’s right handed, he prefers to go left, which keeps defenders on their toes. Lindsey doesn’t’ waste dribbles and can explode through the lane.
At this point, Lindsey needs to shore up two things: His ball handling skills, and more importantly, his assertiveness.
He’ll need to improve his handle to make him a true small forward and perimeter threat. Working with dribbling guru G-d Shamgod at Providence will help him in this regard. Also, he needs to become more assertive, and develop a mean streak; the talent is undeniably there, but Lindsey doesn’t call for the ball and often disappears in games. He has too much talent to not touch the ball on 10 consecutive possessions, which seems to happen regularly when he’s playing.
Isaac Copeland(Brewster Academy)
2014, SF, 6-8, 190
Committed to Georgetown
Copeland is an extremely versatile swingman with huge upside. He has a bevy of skills to develop, and if he does, he can become a go-to player at Georgetown.
At 6-8, he has great shooting mechanics and a high release point to get off any shot he wants. He has vertical bounce and covers ground quickly on defense. Copeland is lanky and will need to fill out his frame, but he has a soft touch and an athletic frame. Isaac is only starting to come into his own, and has the frame and tools to be a great player one day.
Ladarrius Chester (Melrose HS)
2014, PG, 6-1
Interest from Tennessee, Wichita State, Texas A&M, Murray State and others
Only 6-1, Chester is an electric point guard with next-level athleticism and a massive chip on his shoulder.
Chester is a bully. He has broad shoulders, and uses his strong frame to finish through contact at the rim. The next step for him is learning how to run an offense, but even still, he’s a fearless competitor with great physical tools. And, man, his bounce…wow.
Mustapha Heron (Wilbraham & Monson Academy)
2016, SG, 6-4, 197
Interest from several high-major schools
Heron is physical specimen for his age. He has the body of a strong running back, and has great body control and explosiveness on the basketball court.
He has excellent ball handling ability for his size, and is versatile to defend three positions.
Heron seems lost at times, often dribbling into nowhere or just feeling out the game while he’s on the court. If he can improve his feel for the game, he has the athletic tools and skill-set to be a high-impact player.
Chris McCullough (Brewster Academy)
2014, PF, 6-10, 220
Committed to Syracuse
McCullough finished the game with 19 points and 7 rebounds, and continued to display the athletic gifts he possesses.
He is a physical specimen with great upside. With very long arms and great mobility, he should have an immediate impact in Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, and also in their transition-heavy attack. He gets eye-level with the rim, and is a dangerous weak-side shot blocker.
McCullough is very raw right now, as he needs to develop his frame and a back-to-the-basket/face-up game, but his athletic abilities are jaw-dropping. With freakishly long arms, he doesn’t go to the rim; he goes at the rim, trying to dunk everything in his path. He’s started to showcase a motor, something that will set him apart from the rest. He has NBA potential for sure.
Isaiah Whitehead (Lincoln HS)
2014, PG, 6-4, 195
Offers from Syracuse, Arizona, UCLA and others
No matter who’s matched up against him, Isaiah will compete his butt off—we saw him battle with Archie Goodwin two summers ago, and Andrew Harrison last year.
This year it was more of the same, except Whitehead showcased something we hadn’t seen before: unlimited range on a smooth jumpshot. Whitehead took home the 3–point contest crown, and in Friday’s scrimmage he hit a few near-half-court contested jumpshots.
His shooting mechanics need work, as he releases the ball just above his chest, but his jumpshot has noticeaby improved. He’s in-between a point guard and shooting guard, but if he’s going to play at the next level it will be at PG. In order to make this transition, he’ll need to work on his passing, as he’s more of a scoring guard right now.
Whitehead is one of the best attackers in the class, and has a vast offensive arsenal to break his man down and put the ball in the hoop. Whitehead always had immense talent, but he would often take ill-advised shots and have tunnel vision with the basketball. Now, he’s found a comfortable balance, showing a willingness to reverse the ball and play within the offense, and then attack if an opportunity presents itself. In my estimation, right now Whitehead is the best guard in New York.
Cheick Diallo(Our Savior New American)
2015, PF, 6-9, 215 — Team NYC Co-MVP
Native of Mali
Offers from Arizona, Kansas, St. John’s and others
Diallo had a strong showing at the Big Strick, finishing with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
In terms of his game, it was more the usual: A defensive standout, but unpolished offensively. Diallo can guard both power forwards and centers—he and Stephen Zimmerman had quite the battle down low—and quickly gets off his feet to block everything that comes his way. He could easily be the best help-side defender in the country. Diallo makes it a personal mission to alter every shot in his vicinity, and has excellent mobility and bounce to run the floor lurking for blocks. He is young and extremely aggressive.
On offense, though, he needs a lot of work. He has virtually no feel in the paint, and had some trouble finishing at the rim. If he can make progress on offense, he will be a valuable high-major prospect. If he can’t, he’ll settle for being one of the best rim protectors in the nation.
Isaiah Briscoe (Roselle Catholic)
2015, SG, 6-3, 200 — Team NYC Co-MVP
Offers from UConn, Florida, Indiana and others
Briscoe is a strong guard with an outstanding handle, great body control and finishing ability. He doesn’t play above the rim, but he uses his body well and has a versatile skill-set—scoring, passing and getting out in transition—to make a significant impact. He legitimately took over the Big Strick with his handle, giving the USA team fits. Multiple body types tried to slow him down, and they just couldn’t.
Briscoe will take what the defense gives him, and then make them pay. He’s not an elite athlete, but he converts difficult shots from the perimeter and has the confidence to battle with any guard. He has great talent, and in authentic New York/Jersey fashion, always gets up for the challenge.
I’d be surprised if Briscoe is not a McDonald’s All-American in 2015.
Thomas Bryant (Bishop Kearney HS)
2015, SF/PF, 6-9, 200
Offers from Syracuse, Florida, Ohio State and others
At 6-foot-9 and still so young, Bryant has the makings of a future star. He is undoubtedly a top 10 player in the class of 2015.
He is a high-level athlete with a versatile skill-set and endless motor. He can put it on the floor, shoot out to 17 feet, bang down low, and finish above the rim. Many have said Bryant is the best power forward in his class. He plays on a loaded Team Scan AAU team which features 2014 forward Chris McCullough, 2015 forward Cheick Diallo and 2016 forward Kassoum Yakwe.
Bryant’s perimeter game is still fairly raw. Although he’s shown improvement in his handle and is becoming more comfortable on the perimeter, right now he plays mostly in the paint. Still, the skills and talent are definitely there. He projects to make an immediate impact at a high-major school.
Terry Larrier (The Phelps School)
2014, SF, 6-7, 200
Offers from VCU, UConn, Miami, Maryland, Texas and others
Larrier has great length and runs the floor with long, fluid strides. He is a big-time talent whose best basketball is clearly ahead of him. He can effortlessly finish on the break, and because of his great size for a small forward (6-7), he can shoot over smaller defenders. If he can crash the boards with more conviction and fill out his frame, Larrier will become a better offensive player, and can slowly develop into a legitimate prospect.
Bashir Ahmed (John F. Kennedy HS)
2014, SG, 6-4, 200
Verbally Committed to Iona
Ahmed is a long and athletic 6-4 guard with advanced moves. He is a freak athlete who flies off of one foot, and has next-level explosion.
Plain and simple, if he had a more consistent jumpshot, Ahmed would be a high-major prospect. He has great size and wingspan, can get into the lane at will, is a solid defender and an excellent rebounder from the wing. I have a feeling that Ahmed will shore up his fundamentals under Tim Cluess, and eventually make national noise at Iona. He has the requisite gifts to do so.
Khadeen Carrington (Bishop Laughlin)
2014, SG, 6-3, 185
Offers from Boston College, Hofstra, Iowa State, Pittsburgh and others
Carrington is a smooth lefty with great bounce. He is a little undersized, but he is crafty with the ball, can finish in transition and has an effective in-between game. He can play both on/off the ball, and has seen his stock rise throughout the year.
Shavar Newkirk (Cardinal Hayes)
2014, PG, 5-11, 175
Committed to St. Joe’s
Newkirk is a tough point guard who plays good defense and can direct his teammates. He gets into the paint and can finish around bigger defenders. He should continue to improve, particularly in his passing and jumpshot. If he can, he has the confidence and toughness to compete with guys who are bigger than him.
Prince Ali (The Sagemont School)
2015, 6-3, 180, G
Offers from Georgia, Illinois, UConn and others
Ali is a very athletic guard who attacks the rim in transition and makes things happen with the ball in his hands. He has extremely long arms, which make him effective defensively, and also has deft passing ability in the paint.
Ali is a high-major prospect with great upside. If he can shore up his jumpshot, he has a chance to be a dynamic playmaker with freak athletic ability.
Rawle Alkins (Christ The King)
2016, SG, 6-4, 174,
Interest from several high-major schools
Alkins is a big-time athlete with nice size and strong finishing ability. He dunks the ball with ease, and is a solid defender. Right now, his bread and butter is getting into the paint and scoring, which he does very well.
Alkins has a lot of time to develop into a high-major prospect. He’s certainly on the right path.
Mike Williams (Bishop Loughlin)
2014, SG, 6-2, 175
Committed to Rutgers
Williams is an all-around player who does a little bit of everything. He’s undersized for his position, but he compensates with deep range on his jumpshot and sound passing instincts. He’s a versatile player who can score in a variety ways; he has a great feel for the game and is talented. Under the tutelage of Eddie Jordan, Williams has a chance to make a significant impact at Rutgers.
Unique McLean(Hoosac School)
2016, SG, 6-1, 175
Interest from Detroit, Siena, Boston and others
Unique is a great athlete with a legitimate 40-inch vertical. He can get into the lane and create. He doesn’t really have a position right now, as he’s a scorer in point guard’s body, but his athletic gifts help him make an impact. He is only a rising sophomore, so McLean has time to hone his point guard skills and bring it all together.